DAHLGREN, Va. – When you think of an intern, you may think of a college-aged student that deals with filing, printing, or other absent-minded tasks. But in the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division’s (NSWCDD) future systems software development branch, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The branch focuses 100% of their energy on software development and coding for the Navy’s future systems, creating the “latest and greatest” software for the Integrated Combat Systems Department.
“It’s all about what’s next for the Navy. We have an organization that has talent, breadth, and depth to go after new technologies,” said Les Greeley, NSWCDD Future Systems Software Development Branch head. “We want to change how the Navy builds and maintains software. Our interns are learning the latest and greatest methods in school and in their everyday lives.”
Part of Greeley’s vision for the groundbreaking department is a collaborative workspace. In the workspace, there’s a wall titled ‘We Have Great Ideas.’ According to Greeley, the wall exists to promote new solutions.
“If you have a great idea when you’re at home, I want you to come into work and smack the idea onto the wall. Periodically, we take the ideas off the wall and play with them,” he said. “It’s been the perfect marriage of experience and a push for new creative ideas. The key to our success is having an environment where everyone’s ideas are valid, and every idea is explored.”
Greeley’s outlook plays a vital role in the branch’s mentality.
“I have enough work experience that I know that who I work with and the quality of my interactions with others is probably the single most important aspect of a work environment,” said Megan Burgess, a STEM-Student Employment Program (SSEP) intern. “If you raise your hand up for help in the collaborative lab space, there’s almost a sprint to see who can get to you first to help answer your questions.” Burgess is currently working on a computer science degree, more than two decades after leaving her first career as a chemist to stay home with her children.
This summer, Greeley and his department employed eleven SSEP interns. SSEP provides internship opportunities to students in science, technology, engineering, and math areas.
“Some branches really struggle with what to do with their interns, just because there’s not always a college program equivalent. I need my interns to come in and code,” said Greeley. “They’ve already got a foundation from their college classes and are able to be productive.”
While in school, interns can qualify for tuition assistance and following graduation, can transition into a full-time position.
“For me, the main draw to the program was the seamless transition between interns and full-time employees. It was transparent that the internship would lead to a job, which isn’t necessarily true in other places,” said Spencer Charney, a current scientist in the division after starting out as an SSEP intern while in college.
Thomas Donohue, a junior at Virginia Tech, interned with the Future Systems Software Development Branch this summer. He says his internship at NSWCDD helped prepare him for his studies in multiple areas. “Not only did my internship keep me in a work mindset, I also got a better idea of what’s actually used in the industry.”
“The knowledge gain for our interns is real world experience. Everything we do matters, and that’s a really important context to have while still in school,” said Tiffany Lower, NSWCDD scientist and SSEP mentor in the Future Systems Software Development Branch.
For full-time employees and SSEP interns alike, the mission of NSWCDD is an active approach.
“My eldest is in the Navy. Having that background makes all the difference in the world,” Burgess said. “What I do matters here, on a personal level. The very first thing Capt. Plew said during our orientation back in June was ‘Our mission is to bring every single Sailor home.’ That’s all that matters. There’s nothing that matters more than giving the men and women on the line the very best – whether it’s my kids or other people’s.”
Her fellow interns couldn’t agree more.
“This isn’t an intern job where you’re tasked with getting the coffee. I’ve been able to get my hands on some actual code and contribute,” said Ben Fluharty, a junior at Liberty University. “I can’t wait to come back for winter break and future summers until graduation. I love the experience and I couldn’t be more grateful.”